It’s Oct. 4, the day many Christians remember the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Below is a prayer St. Francis wrote as he was approaching his own death. One can see the way Francis viewed all of creation as being a gift of Creator God.
I invite you to take a moment from your busy day to pray this prayer. Read it once to get the feel of it. Then read it again, as a prayer of your own, giving praise to God. If you enjoy this prayer, you might enjoy writing your own prayer of thanks for all that God has created.
The Canticle of Creation
By Saint Francis of Assisi
O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God, to you belong praise, glory, honor and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation and especially for our Brother Sun, who brings us the day and the light; he is strong and shines magnificently. O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and for the stars which you have set shining and lovely in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Brothers Wind and Air and every kind of weather by which you, Lord, uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water, who is very useful to us, and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire, through whom you give us light in the darkness: he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Earth, our Mother, who nourishes us and sustains us, bringing forth fruits and vegetables of many kinds and flowers of many colors.
Be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive for love of you; and for those who bear sickness and weakness in peace and patience – you will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death, whom we must all face. I praise and bless you, Lord, and I give thanks to you, and I will serve you in all humility.
Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength. –St. Philip Neri *
Sometimes we feel the nudge of the Spirit asking us to do things we think cannot possibly do. Perhaps we have been hurt in the past by rejection or loss, and are afraid to take up loving someone again. Maybe we feel we don’t have enough education, good looks, or poise for a task. We may feel too young to qualify, or too old to try something new.
But following Christ (or any spiritual path) involves remaining open to new things, to go wherever the Spirit leads us. Sometimes this is easy to do, especially in the first flush of spiritual enthusiasm. However, when times get hard, when we are tempted, or when others around us ridicule us, it can be very difficult to live as Jesus lived.
St. Philip Neri reminds us that God does not ask us to do the impossible, at least not what it truly impossible. Even in the rough places in the road, God is there with us, to guide us, to comfort us, and to challenge us to grow.
Is there something in your life that God is asking you to do, but you are shrinking from out of fear?
If that “something” really is God’s desire for your life, then we can be sure that somehow, some way, God will bring it about, sooner or later—if only we open ourselves to receiving divine guidance, divine strength. It’s worth reading Philip Neri’s words again; write them on your heart (as I will strive to do as well):
Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.
Until next time, Amen!
*Philip Neri quote from The Wisdom of the Saints: An Anthology by Jill Haak Adels (Oxford University Press), p. 58.
Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
In my Catholic upbringing, I got the impression that the only path to sainthood would be priesthood for men and religious life (becoming a nun) for women. I rarely heard about married women saints, and when I did, they were described to me as holy because of becoming nuns or founding convents after their husbands died.
Because of this, I have a special place in my heart for St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the medieval wife and mother who didn’t merely “tolerate” marriage (after all, the marriage was arranged by one’s parents) but rather genuinely liked her husband.
In her short lifespan of 24 years, Elizabeth integrated many callings: queen, wife, mother, woman of prayer, personal service to the poor and sick, etc. Elizabeth’s example appeals to people of many walks of life for many reasons, but I like to think of her as the patroness of “juggling:”
When I feel overwhelmed with balancing the pieces of my life, I think of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the thirteenth-century queen who could be called “the patroness of juggling.” This young woman not only devoted herself to raising her children and spending time with her husband Ludwig (whom she adored), but she also attended church frequently, managed the castle while Ludwig was away on extended business, developed a rich prayer life, and personally ministered to the poor and sick of the kingdom (something the elite found rather revolting).
Apparently Elizabeth couldn’t find enough prayer time to satisfy her, so she instructed her maid to sneak into the royal bedroom each night, reach under the bed covers, and pull on her toes to wake her. Elizabeth would slip away without disturbing Ludwig’s sleep to pray in secret. This clever plan worked well for a time, until one night, when the servant girl reached between the sheets, the king suddenly bolted upright in bed. Apparently she had found the wrong toes.
Jesus, too, often had to find ways of stealing away from his busy ministry to catch his breath. [In Mark 1:35-39], it appears that the disciples do not know where he has gone. When they find him, Peter sounds exasperated: “Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!” It’s as if he thinks Jesus is missing a photo-op and the chance to work the crowd. But Jesus knows his priorities: his work must be grounded in a healthy, personal relationship with his heavenly Father.
When we feel pulled in many directions, unsure which task to do next, whether to say yes or no to this or that, or how much time to devote to prayer, we can take heart that others before us (including Jesus!) certainly faced similar human challenges–yet ultimately found their true Christian fulfillment.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s feast day is Nov. 17. For more about her read here or view a slide show here .
…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. –I Corinthians 15:22.
All will be made alive in Christ? All? All might end up in heaven? Or just Catholics? Or just Protestants? Or just Missouri Synod Lutherans? Or maybe just baptized believers? Or maybe “good people” of any spirituality? Or just those who do good things? Or those who give enough money to charity? Or those who believe the right things?
Rob Bell brings up questions like these and many others in the book we’re reading in my church group, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011). In case you haven’t heard about this book, here’s a preview video (if you are reading this in your email, the YouTube preview is on my blog):
Bell raises important questions about heaven and hell that many Christians secretly wonder about but are afraid to ask. He particularly challenges the types of church-goers who seem to relish the thought of some people being sent to hell. They consider themselves “saved” and righteous, but anyone outside their select group “condemned.” They seem to worship a God who is loving one moment and wrathful the next.
Reading Bell’s book is one thoughtful way to consider how we view Christ-followers of “other groups” (denominations, political parties, that “other choir” at church, etc.), those of other religious groups (Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.), the “merely spiritual,” or those of no particular philosophical or faith adherence. Do we treat them will equal dignity and compassion? Or, as Rob Bell points out, do some of us secretly rejoice to picture certain people in hell? Would Christ our Lord rejoice to see someone be cast into hell? Bell asks, Is this “good news”?
Christians of other centuries have also wrestled with these questions. In the article “Dare We Hope For the Salvation of All?” Greek Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Ware examines how Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Isaac the Syrian considered the salvation of all people and the restoration of all things in Christ. He also draws material from a variety of others, including Julian of Norwich, C.S. Lewis, and St. Silouan of Mount Athos. (Theology Digest 45:4 (1998); also reprinted in The Inner Kingdom, Vol. 1, pages 193-215).
Like Bell, Bishop Ware is trying to remain true to the immense love of God, while also upholding human free will. My favorite story in the article was about a conversation between St. Silouan and a hermit. St. Silouan was so convinced that hell might not be a forever situation that he actually prayed “for the dead suffering in the hell of separation from God. . . [Saint Silouan] could not bear to think that anyone would languish in ‘outer darkness.'”
When the hermit criticized St. Silouan for this, the holy man said, “Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire–would you feel happy?”
The hermit responded that it would be the condemned person’s own fault.
The holy St. Silouan replied, “love could not bear that…we must pray for all.”
(Quotes above from Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, quoted in The Inner Kingdom, page 194).
For Eastern Christians, heaven is less a “me and Jesus” and more of a mystical communion of persons. God is “communal” in the sense that God’s oneness is Trinitarian–and to truly mirror God and be taken into the glory of heaven, the multitude of saints (all God’s beloved people) would need to be included in order for the joy to be complete.
The best way to explain this is to consider that the definition of hell for Russian Christians is two people, tied to each other but back to back. They are with each other but not really one. The opposite of that, heaven, is “face-to-face”: face-to-face intimacy and union not only with God, but with each other.
Saint Silouan didn’t think he could be completely happy in heaven until every last person was there, “face-to-face,” dwelling in glory with God and each other, including every single person.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. —Mark 10:21-22.
Today is the feast of Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), a Christian who fully embraced these words of Jesus. A young woman from a wealthy family, Clare gave up a luxurious lifestyle at age 18 in response to the preaching of the now-famous Francis of Assisi. Like Francis, her goal was to embody the gospel message completely, to imitate Christ so much that her life might become a sort of mirror image of the Savior.
In founding the Poor Clares, a religious order of women who follow Franciscan ideals, Clare made living a life of utter simplicity or “holy poverty,” a foundational principle. Clare wanted to be free of all that might keep her from experiencing the fullness of Christ in her life.
That is not to say that poverty is a glorious thing. It is not glamorous or desirable to be forced into poverty. The Lord does not want people to starve. The key thing here is that those with much wealth and many material things (and most Americans fit into this category) can become so attached to these things that they focus their lives on obtaining more and more things or money rather than focusing their hearts on God.
The man in the gospel reading above goes away “shocked and grieving”–he can’t believe his ears. He’s kept all the commandments and now Jesus wants him to get rid of his treasured possessions. This man probably spent his whole life amassing those possessions, maintaining them with repair and upkeep, and protecting them from thieves. His “things” were probably his main focus–and Jesus encourages him to get rid of them.
In her time, Clare took these words of Christ very seriously. I’m trying to imagine what this teaching means in our lives today. Certainly Christ desires that we have basic food and shelter. After all, he taught us to pray, “give us this day, our daily bread.” But I rather doubt Christ would want many of us (if any) to pray “give us this day, increased stock dividends,” or “save me from higher taxes.”
Yet, some Christian speakers of today give the impression that following Christ is a recipe for wealth, success, and earthly power. If you pray the right way, or donate to the right ministry, money will come back to you in return. This is known as the “gospel of prosperity.”
I wonder, how does one reconcile the gospel of prosperity with these words of Jesus telling the man to sell all he owned? To build up treasure, not in bank accounts, powerful cars or sleek electronic gadgets (confession: I just bought a Kindle), but rather “treasure in heaven”?
Saint Clare was counter-cultural when she dared to say no to her parents’ plan for her life (prestigious marriage, no doubt) and took up instead the cross of Christ in holy poverty. She even stood her ground on this issue when church officials wanted to release her from her vow of holy poverty because they thought it too strenuous for a woman. “Release me from my sins,” she said, “but never from the vow of holy poverty,” or something to that effect (I regret I can’t find where I read this).
Today we are bombarded with messages that would lead us away from the true way of Christ, some of them coming from people who call themselves “Christian.” May we have the courage of Clare, even when it means giving up wealth, power, or prestige for the sake of the gospel.
Think about your possessions. Is there something you own that you could give to someone in need? Perhaps a closet filled with things you never use? Magazines? School supplies? Dishes? A table? Socks? Suitcases? Phones? Radios? Winter coats? School clothes? Books? A musical instrument or sports equipment? Blankets?